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Motion capture technology improving patient engagement on rehabilitation wards

Marina Williams
1 September 2017

Being part of a research team investigating the use of technology with motion capture capability on functional outcomes sparked APA member Amy Rathjen’s curiosity to further test the use of activity monitors on patient engagement in rehabilitation.

The physiotherapist, based at the Launceston General Hospital, is about halfway through recruiting 80 patients for her investigation into the use of activity monitors, or pedometers, for her Master of Clinical Rehabilitation project through Flinders University.

The randomised controlled pilot is testing a link between the use of motion trackers and improving mobility outcomes on patients in the hospital’s slow-to-recover rehabilitation ward.

‘We are using the pedometers as a feedback mechanism to see if we can increase activity on the rehabilitation ward. Will it encourage clients to engage more with their rehab and encourage them to exercise?’ Amy says.

‘There are a lot of activity monitors that are quite popular, and while there have been some studies done in 10 000 steps in community populations—both health and chronic diseases—I wanted to see if they have any effects on our clients in getting them walking more; and if they do walk more, how does this translate into better mobility outcomes?’

Amy’s point of difference from previous research is hers focuses on a rehabilitation ward. The basic, spring-levered Yamax pedometer was deliberately chosen above a more expensive, popular model because of its affordability and ease of use.

‘A known limitation is that it is not as accurate as some others, but the question is, if it is used will it make a difference to their mobility? We also need to consider how the use of frames will alter how it can be read, what it is the feasibility of getting it on and off and lifting the cover to read the step count, especially for those with limited mobility in their hands.’

A control group wears a pedometer with a fixed strap, with staff also recording steps daily. All patients are asked to try to walk more each day and either record steps or an estimated distance covered. Family and staff are encouraged to engage with patients, especially if they have limited cognition. A more specific target hasn’t been set as not to increase staff workload.

‘We are already seeing varying degrees of engagement from clients, staff and families, but with no allied health staff rostered at weekends, it’s up to nursing staff to record results,’ Amy says. ‘So, another aspect of the project has been educating the wider health team about implementation and use of pedometers.’

A career in physiotherapy in a bustling hospital environment was always front-of-mind for Amy throughout high school. After three years with Western Health in Melbourne, she moved to London and worked in a community falls team. Wanting to further her knowledge in sub-acute rehabilitation wards, she opted for this to form the basis of her master’s degree. Amy says she is fortunate to receive a scholarship from Services for Australia Rural and Remote Allied Health to pursue these postgraduate studies.

‘Having done the other project I learned a lot, so it was interesting to find out that bit more on how pedometers could encourage patients to be engaged with their exercise and move some more,’ she says.


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